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Men's or Women's Prisons: The Transgender Conundrum

Nikita Dragun is among several well-known YouTubers known as an OG of social media notoriety. Dragun, who currently has 3 million YouTuber followers, is known for her makeup and fashion videos that showcase large amounts of wealth. While many today watch her videos to see her collaborate with other YouTube creators, originally Dragun came to fame for documenting her transition to womanhood. With videos titled “TRANSGENDER Q&A (New Boobs, Transphobia & More)” Dragun built a name for herself as an openly trans woman. Yet, despite her fame as an influential woman on YouTube, she was placed with male inmates when she was arrested in 2022.

The Issue:

In late 2022, Dragun was charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct and felony battery of a law enforcement officer. According to reports, Dragun was “arrested after allegedly causing a disturbance and walking around The Goodtime Hotel pool naked” and “Dragun allegedly then threw an open bottle at a security guard and police officer, hitting them and covering them in water.” Despite having legally changed her gender identity to female, when Dragun was placed in the men’s unit of the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center. She was eventually released of her own recognizance, however, this story brought to light the various ways that transgender people are misgendered and often placed in a nexus of violence due to the refusal of prison systems to recognize transgendered identities.

While different local precincts have varying transgender policies, the Miami-Dade County correctional department has clear regulations. Specifically, the department “mandates that transgender inmates are classified and housed based on safety needs and gender identity.” Yet, despite this, Dragun was still housed against her gender identity. This situation is not unique to prison systems nationwide or the Miami-Dade correctional department. There have been three other transgender people “filed a lawsuit against Miami-Dade County for the abuse they allegedly faced in 2020 when they too were misgendered.

The Facts:

Nationally, the statistics are astounding. According to NBC News, “Out of 4,890 transgender state prisoners tracked in 45 states and Washington, D.C., NBC News was able to confirm only 15 cases in which a prisoner was housed according to their lived gender, based on responses to Freedom of Information Act requests over the past year. Seven of those states, including California, provided the total number of transgender prisoners but would not say where they were housed, citing privacy concerns” The data shows that less than 1% of transgender prisoners are housed according to their lived gender identity. This fact showcases how transgender prisoners endure additional harm compared to their cisgender companions in prison. Additionally, states are choosing to refuse to release important information that could be used against the prison industrial system. In doing so, states are also ignoring the needs and rights of transgender inmates. As a result, the harm committed against these individuals is also silenced.

What’s Currently Being Done:

Many LGBTQIA+ organizations have worked to correct the treatment of transgender individuals in prisons. Specifically, the Transgender Law Center has a webpage of resources available to those who might be affected by discriminatory prison practices. Some of these resources include “1) policies issued by specific state DOCs and the federal BOP, 2) guides to navigating grievance processes and filing lawsuits, 3) know-your-rights guides for transgender and LGBT people, 4) model policies developed by LGBT advocacy organizations, 5) statements from medical professional associations on the necessity of transition-related health care, 6) medical information about transition-related health care, 7) case law from previous lawsuits filed by transgender people in prison, 8) reentry resources, and 9) resource lists of other organizations.” With these resources, others who do not have the same social influence as someone like Nikita Dragun might be able to receive assistance. Dragun's case is one of many transgender stories in prison. The prison system was created in very binary terms, yet society no longer exists in these black and white lenses. Forcing trans people into these harmful systems only furthers transphobia which delegitimizes the lived experiences of an entire group of people. While society still feels the need for prisons, it is important for these oppressive systems to adapt, as to not inflict even further pain on its marginalized victims.

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